Yorkshire has, according to an article I read been ‘crowned as the most trustworthy accent in the country.’
Now I’m not sure which Yorkshire accent those participating in the survey listened too.
The Yorkshire accent in Barnsley is different to that in Sheffield or here in Leeds. But nevertheless the Yorkshire accent won with the poor old Brummies coming last.
And we all know that accents do make a difference. As does the tone in which something is said.
We don’t want someone who is overly jolly giving us bad news like Dr. Hibbert in the Simpson’s cartoon series who always manages to laugh when giving a patient bad news.
Nor do we want a comedian presenting the news. The best newsreaders have a calm authority, think of Trevor Barnes or Huw Edwards or Anna Ford.
And there is something reassuring that can be conveyed through a voice. I think of Mark Carney the former governor of the Bank of England who always seemed to instil confidence, at least in me.
Then there are those actors of stage and screen think of Jean Luc-Picard, the Captain of the Starship Enterprise, also known as the actor Patrick Stewart. You always thought with him in command then things would work out. Of course Star Trek is fiction but you know what I mean. Accents, voices, the way something is said matter.
These thoughts came to mind when thinking about the readings for this morning. For the writer of the letter to James talks both of our voices and what we say. ‘the tongue’ he writes ‘is a small member’ yet it is a ‘fire’ that can be ‘a restless evil full of deadly poison.’
‘With it we bless the Lord and Father (just as we are doing this morning in our worship) and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.’
I guess all of us here feel just a little bit guilty when we reflect on those words. Of how we can say one thing in here, and yet in a matter of minutes perhaps even between here and the centre for coffee have already been critical and unkind. “That sermon was terrible!”
But whilst I could dwell on this, and I suspect preachers have sometimes used this text as ammunition to remind gossiping parishioners to watch their tongues.
We have a Gospel reading which in some way seems to contradict the first reading for in Jesus tells his friend Peter that he is ‘Satan’. That he is to ‘get behind’ or out of the way of Jesus.
It must have hurt Peter to hear those words. Yet Jesus is clear, that the moment has come to unpack what it meant for them to acclaim him as ‘the Messiah.’
For once they have said those words Jesus is unflinching in his truth telling. Saying that he would suffer and be killed. And that they if they wanted to live out what they have said then they were to ‘deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him.’
These were and are hardly the kind of ideas that would win widespread support. And I expect that was Peter’s problem for having found the Messiah he likely had some expectation of what that would look like.
Of how through Jesus there would come a new beginning and those nasty Romans would be thrown out. Except Jesus doesn’t say what Peter wants and his words unsettle him.
I expect we all have a picture of Jesus formed no doubt by countless stained glass windows and images that have seeped into our imagination. But what of his voice, how do we imagine Jesus sounded?
As I’ve thought about this passage I wondered about how Jesus’ voice was able to do two things at once. For it seems to me he was able to say deeply challenging things in such a way that the hearer was reassured too. It was part of his ‘authority’ .
Maybe that’s why we are drawn to the Picard’s of fiction and the Carney’s of history. Their voices of authority in some way echo of the voice of Jesus whom we long to hear.
A voice that can sometimes challenge us deeply as it spoken into our experience of life yet a voice we hear and trust. A voice that though spoken by different voices here as the Gospel is read is lifted from the page into our hearts and minds.
I wonder too whether Jesus had a gift for silence, knowing when not to speak. Think of that memorable story in John’s Gospel as a woman is caught in adultery.
He confronts the crowd baying for blood around him by saying ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ .
And then kneels down and is silent. The words sink in and one by one the accusers walk away confronted through Jesus’ words by their own sin.
And here we return to that first reading. Perhaps the writer had experienced the toxic tongues that were cruel and unkind. Perhaps he struggled to make sense of how a community who claimed to follow Jesus could behave as they were. And so he says ‘My brothers and sisters; this ought not be so.’
The Book of James is filled with teaching as it works out what it means to follow Jesus, what impact it has on our daily lives. So, he writes of how if they follow Jesus the lives they lead should look different and perhaps part of that is to be silent sometimes.
‘If you cannot say anything kind don’t say anything at all’ as the saying goes. And so when Jesus says ‘Let them deny themselves’ perhaps that might sometimes mean we hesitate, we pause before sharing our opinion.
But it is difficult, living as we do in a culture where everybody’s opinion seems to be equally valid, where we want instant answers to difficult questions. Where we seem to want leaders who know everything and never get anything wrong.
So, perhaps these readings challenge us to remember that though this is where we find ourselves and the temptation to join with the crowd is great. There is another way, mindful that our words and how we say them matter, as do times when we deny ourselves by not sharing our opinion but being silent and listening.
And perhaps then the voice of Jesus might be heard with a fresh clarity. The voice that has called us, just as it has called generations before us as this weekend reminds us, inspires us and keeps on challenging us. A voice that to return to my beginning helps us grow as the trustworthy people we are called to be.